ASTR 102
Our Solar System and Others Spring 2022
Division III

Class Details

What makes Earth different from all the other planets? What have NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance on Mars (with their alumni/ae participation!) found about that planet’s past running water and suitability for life? How has knowledge about Pluto and Arrokoth beyond it been transformed by NASA’s flybys and the associated ground-based studies with which Williams College faculty and students participated? Will asteroids or comets collide with the Earth again? What is a solar eclipse like and how do we prepare for the April 8, 2024, totality? What do we learn from the rare transits of Mercury and of Venus that Williams faculty and students have studied? Astronomy 102, a non-major, general introduction to the part of contemporary astronomy that comprises the study of the solar system, will provide answers to these questions and more. We will cover the historical development of humanity’s understanding of the solar system, examining contributions by Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and others. We will discuss the discovery of over 4000 exoplanets around stars other than the Sun. The course gives special attention to exciting discoveries of the past few years by space probes and by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Kepler/K2/TESS missions, as well as plans and hopes for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (at this deadline scheduled for launch in December 2021). We regularly discuss the latest news briefs and developments in astronomy and relate them to the topics covered in the course. This course is independent of, and on the same level as Astronomy 101 (stars and stellar evolution) and 104 (galaxies and cosmology), and students who have taken those courses are welcome.
The Class: Format: lecture/laboratory; lecture (three hours per week), observing sessions (scattered throughout the semester), afternoon labs (five times per semester), and a planetarium demonstration. A planetarium demonstration will also take place, available both in place and remotely. Planetarium and Roof-Observing TAs will be available for consultation, in addition to the instructors, throughout the semester. This course is also available asynchronously.
Limit: 48
Expected: 30
Class#: 3002
Grading: yes pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: two hour tests, a final exam, an observing portfolio, and lab reports
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: first enrolled
Unit Notes: non-major course
Distributions: Division III

Class Grid

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